December 25, 2016

Editorial: The day is here

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“It’s Christmas!” goes the whisper, here in Worcester and all around the world.

This is the one day of the year when dawn comes because of excitement more than sunlight.

Then, in a sense, it’s over in a burst of activity around the gleaming tree. Especially in homes with children, a big part of Christmas is crammed in before breakfast. There are more important things than toast and cereal to tend to, starting with the stockings.

It’s not really so fleeting, though. This top-of-the-year holiday has many layers, and the deepest ones last. The gifts, the get-togethers, the songs and the decorations are fun, but the feeling of Christmas is what sticks, and keeps us coming back for more every year.

So here we are, Dec. 25 again and a day like no other.

Perhaps the aspect of the holidays we treasure most is the sense of tradition and return. The previous 12 months melt under the familiar greetings, stories, lists, rush, and secrets inside rustling shopping bags snuck into closets.

For many, the religious foundation is uppermost, and makes this day that marks Jesus’ birth faith-affirming and holy. But the day’s secular side also thrives. Christmas has inclusiveness, an effusive positive spirit, and a drive to celebrate life, hope and goodwill. We wish the politics of today could say as much.

Whatever our circumstances, the sweep of Christmas joy can enfold us, sometimes easily and sometimes with help. No one’s Christmas is Norman Rockwell-ideal. We are grateful to the marvelous charities, organizations, kindhearted people and traditions in our city which step in to fill whatever gaps are found. We thank everyone who’s had a hand today in putting smiles on faces, heat in homes, toys under wrapping paper and food on the table.

Christmas teaches us an uplifting lesson. We may receive things we want or need, but giving is something we need even more.

Helping, however we can, the unhappy or less fortunate is, of course, a year-round proposition. The holiday season, with its bounty and beauty just at the beginning of winter, serves as an annual reminder.

We wish everyone a Merry Christmas — or a Happy Hanukkah. Today is literally a day for “Happy holidays.” By an unusual confluence of the Hebrew calendar with the Gregorian one, the start of Hanukkah aligns this year with Christmas.

Last night at sundown, Hanukkah began. Today is the first full day of the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrating the rededication of the defiled Jerusalem temple in 164 B.C.

So as peace descends, sometime mid-afternoon perhaps, in exhausted Christmas households, hush and anticipation will be warming Jewish homes. Families will gather at sunset, 4:20 p.m., light the second menorah candle, and say an ancient blessing over the flames.

The Christian and Jewish traditions of this holiday period diverge in form, meaning and fundamental belief. But they share a sense of precious continuity, and the triumph of light over the cold and dark.

If only the country could begin the new year on a similar note of togetherness and respect for differences, next week.

Meanwhile, we hope that in millions of houses today, the flurry of preparations and planning come down to laughs, fun, and calm moments when everything connects. Tonight, as Christmas 2016 comes to a close and the Hanukkah candles go out, we hope the fresh reminders about all that really matters keep burning for a good long while.

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